Agile vs Waterfall Methodology: Differences & How To Choose


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One of the most critical components of project management is understanding various methodologies, their strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when those teachings are best applied. Read on to learn more about the Agile and Waterfall methodologies, their similarities, and differences, and when to apply them in daily project management work.

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Agile vs. Waterfall Methodologies: What’s the Difference?

While Agile and Waterfall are both methodologies that exist in project management, their use cases and core rules are extremely different. The main difference between Agile and Waterfall is that the Agile methodology is extremely flexible, whereas the Waterfall methodology is rigid. 

The Agile methodology is team-driven and includes room for quick changes, edits, and room for stakeholder feedback throughout. On the other hand, the Waterfall approach is more traditional, with projects following a sequential approach that only involves feedback at the end of the project.

Read more: Agile, Waterfall, and Hybrid: Managing the Multiple-Methodology Portfolio

Overview: A Quick Comparison of Agile and Waterfall

Agile Waterfall comparison.

Read more: What is Agile Project Management?

Key Differences between Agile and Waterfall

Agile Methodology

Key points: High degree of flexibility and continuous evolution 

Requirements: Shorter deadlines, frequent check-ins, and a highly adaptable team with team members that can play various roles as needed


  • Adaptability: Agile projects are able to adapt to unexpected changes and edits faster than most other project management methodologies, making them a great choice for software developers, product designers, and other teams dealing with high levels of uncertainty.
  • Faster issue detection: Because Agile projects rely on delivering a functional product as quickly as possible, Agile teams can identify product issues faster than non-Agile teams that would only notice issues at the end during product delivery.
  • More efficient: Agile teams are often more efficient and faster moving than non-Agile teams, as team members are encouraged to creatively solve problems and continuously improve through feedback and testing.


  • Transitional difficulties: Teams migrating to the Agile methodology from more traditional methods, such as Waterfall, may find the transition challenging.
  • Lack of documentation: In the Agile methodology, comprehensive project documentation isn’t as prevalent as in the Waterfall methodology, making it difficult to extract exact details, budget, and even communicate if teams aren’t mindful.
  • Scope creep: Because the end goal is less definite than in other methodologies, Agile projects can be particularly susceptible to scope creep.

Waterfall Methodology

Key points: Rigid structure and a sequential process

Requirements: Highly structured team, a hands-on project manager, and a well-defined project plan 


  • Well documented: The Waterfall methodology relies on thorough documentation, making it easier to track project expenses and even replicate the project, if needed, in the future.
  • Precise structure: Waterfall projects are predictable and follow an exact process, eliminating uncertainty and creating highly defined roles for team members.
  • High visibility: Especially for teams that are accountable to external stakeholders, the Waterfall method provides a high level of visibility into project work at every phase, making it easy to update stakeholders on project progress.


  • Limited client involvement: External clients and stakeholders that want a high level of involvement with project work might feel excluded from Waterfall projects that limit client involvement.
  • Inflexible: The Waterfall method leaves little room for revisions or changes. Additionally, Waterfall projects have less capacity to adjust if circumstances suddenly change.
  • Time-consuming: Compared to Agile teams, Waterfall projects move more slowly, especially during the project initiation stages, as they require much more in-depth documentation.

Read more: 3 Best Tools for Waterfall Project Management

History of Agile and Waterfall Methodology

History of the Agile Methodology

The Agile methodology was created after the tech boom of the late 1990s when software developers realized they needed a more flexible approach to projects. Before the Agile methodology, software developers and technical teams were frustrated by the Waterfall approach’s limited capacity to embrace change throughout the project lifecycle. For example, if there was an error or major flaw in a software product, by the time the product was delivered to stakeholders, there was no room for improvement without kicking off a new project. 

In February of 2001, a group of 17 software developers met in Snowbird, Utah, determined to create a better way of managing projects that could address some of their frustrations. At the conclusion of the trip, the group created the Agile Manifesto that outlines the key principles of modern Agile project management, effectively creating a better method of project management for teams that required a higher level of flexibility than previous methods provided.

Read more: Agile Software Development Methodology & Principles

History of the Waterfall Methodology

The Waterfall methodology is the oldest project management methodology, first documented in a paper titled “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems,” published by Winston W. Royce in 1970. Inspired by the rigid, repetitive process of Henry Ford’s assembly line, the Waterfall method became popular in the 70s and 80s but became less popular in the 90s as technology-focused teams realized the limitations of the method. 

Read more: Waterfall Software Development & Tools

How to Choose Between the Agile and Waterfall Methodology

When to Use Agile Methodology

The Agile methodology embraces uncertainty, with ambiguous details and adaptability reigning as two core values. Projects with high levels of uncertainty surrounding timeline, budget, and resources are great candidates for the Agile method. In particular, technical teams, such as software engineers, IT support teams, video game developers, and tech startups tend to favor the Agile approach to project management because of the flexibility it grants them when developing new products. 

When to Use Waterfall Methodology

The Waterfall method relies on sequential events and high levels of predictability. A wide variety of projects are good candidates for the Waterfall model, including projects with well-defined requirements, small or highly focused projects, projects that do not have a rigid timeline and repeatable projects that follow similar steps each time. Specifically, industries such as construction and manufacturing benefit from using the Waterfall method. 

Pairing Agile and Waterfall Methodologies with Project Management Tools

When incorporating a new methodology into the team’s project strategy, utilizing the power of project management tools such as project management software can help create a unified documentation system for project documents while making essential tasks like assigning deadlines much easier. 

Project Management Software for Agile Teams: ClickUp

ClickUp is a great choice in project management software for Agile teams because it supports the essential features that Agile teams need most, from a variety of collaborative features to 15 project views, and reporting features that can help fill in the gaps where project documentation is concerned. 

ClickUp collaboration features.

Examples of collaborative features within ClickUp, such as instant chat. Source: ClickUp, accessed November 2023.

Key Features

Collaborative options: Compared to most project management solutions, ClickUp offers a host of communication tools, from built-in chat to video calling and tagged commenting features that help Agile teams stay in touch throughout the project lifecycle. 

Flexible views: ClickUp offers 15 view options for Agile teams that require flexibility in task visualization, including dashboard views that enable teams to monitor the analytics of multiple projects at one time, extracting viral information about project work and completion status. 

Client communication: For Agile teams, client and stakeholder communication is paramount. ClickUp makes it easier for Agile teams to update external stakeholders with features such as in-app email sharing, guest viewing, and cloud storage for essential documents. 

Project Management Software for Waterfall Teams: is a great choice for Waterfall projects because it offers support for achieving well-defined project goals while helping Waterfall teams speed up processes. Features such as workflow automations, templates, and individual task overviews help optimize Waterfall project processes while keeping teams accountable. waterfall template.

Example of the Waterfall project template in Source:, accessed November 2023.

Key Features

Project templates: offers over 100 templates for starting projects easily without the hassle of setup, including a specialized template for Waterfall projects. 

Workflow automations: Waterfall projects can often take longer than other types of projects and’s customizable workflow automations make it easy to repeat menial tasks, speeding up the project process overall. 

Project monitoring: allows users to monitor the status of projects in a few ways, including multi-project dashboard views and the individual task tracking column, which provides a real-time tracker of how close tasks are to completion.

Read more: 10 Best Project Management Software for 2023


Oftentimes, the terms  “methodology” and “framework” are used interchangeably in project management. However, they are, in fact, very different. 

In project management, methodologies refer to a very rigid set of rules and guidelines that are to be strictly followed when working on a project. Conversely, frameworks are less rigid guidelines that provide adaptable paths for the application of methodological principles.

It might sound counterintuitive because the Agile and Waterfall approaches are so different, but in fact, teams can achieve great success when using a hybrid approach of these two methodologies. 

The most common application of these methodologies is to execute project planning through a Waterfall approach and execute the project using the Agile methodology. 

Read more: Agile, Waterfall, and Hybrid: Managing the Multiple-Methodology Portfolio

While only you can decide what the fitting methodology for your project is, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Methodology choices can vary from project to project. Just because the Agile methodology is used for one particular project does not mean the same approach should be followed in all projects moving forward. Different projects require a different approach—and that’s normal in project management. 
  • There are numerous project management methodologies to choose from. The world of project management methodologies is not strictly limited to just Agile or Waterfall methodologies. There are numerous options out there outside of these, such as Lean Six Sigma, Critical Path Method, and more. While Agile and Waterfall are two of the most popular methodologies, one should consider other options as well. 
  • Consider a hybrid approach. When deciding between Agile and Waterfall or other methodologies proves to be a challenge, consider a hybrid approach to leverage the benefits of two different approaches. 

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